There were a lot of changes between the 2023 and 2024 softball seasons. Arizona did not lose a lot of players between the two years, but there were big changes to the coaching staff with the addition of pitching coach Christian Conrad and hitting coach Josh Bloomer. Both men brought in different philosophies from years past. How much effect did those have on the Wildcats?

In the first of a series of articles, we take a look at overall wins and losses as well as the pitching. Part two will take a look at offense and defense.

Wins and losses

While wins and losses from one year to the next can’t all be attributed to coaching—bringing in new players or players just improving as they mature are always big factors—the ultimate measure of a team’s success is how much it wins.

Arizona definitely won more this season, improving from 29-25 to 37-18-1. In the Pac-12, the Wildcats went from 6-18 to 13-11 and moved up from eighth in the league to fifth.

Along with the improved record came a return to the postseason after a one-year absence. The Wildcats even pushed for a national seed. They eventually fell short and were sent to Fayetteville, Ark. as the No. 2 seed in the home regional of No. 12 national seed Arkansas.

Once they got to regionals, the ‘Cats proved they belonged by sweeping the regional. At the very least, it once again called into question the NCAA Softball Selection Committee’s tendency to give middling SEC teams hosting opportunities based largely on the RPI boost they get from playing in the SEC. Arizona stretched its run of regional and super regional wins against SEC teams to 16, the last eight of which have come in SEC ballparks.

Hosting is important, and it was no different this season. The only unseeded teams to advance out of regionals were Baylor and Arizona. In supers, two lower seeds advanced—No. 10 Duke over No. 7 Missouri and No. 14 Alabama over No. 3 Tennessee.

The numbers produced by the players on the field are the driving force behind those wins and losses. How did those numbers change?


Pitching gets a lot of the attention because, as former Arizona head coach Mike Candrea used to remind reporters all the time, it all begins in the circle. Head coach Caitlin Lowe knew that the pitching wasn’t where she wanted it to be or where Arizona needs it to be if the Wildcats are going to win another national title. So, she made a big change in the offseason by moving on from former teammate and fellow Wildcat great Taryne Mowatt.

In came young pitching coach Christian Conrad who uses a data-driven approach that tries to optimize how pitchers are used together. Without a dominant pitcher, Arizona would mix and match its arms based on data gathered during practice and games as well as how pitchers were performing in the moment. Getting an idea of how many outs an individual pitcher can reliably get is always the goal, but this year the staff used more objective data to figure that out.

As the wins and losses show, the strategy worked more often than not when combined with the offensive firepower and the near-perfect defense of Arizona. It also helped improve the pitching stats.

In 2023, Arizona had a staff ERA of 4.26. That dropped to 3.93 in 2024. The individual ERA of the pitchers also improved. Arizona had just one pitcher with a sub-4.00 ERA in 2023. That was Devyn Netz at 3.88. In 2024, both Aissa Silva (3.25) and Miranda Stoddard (3.94) finished below 4.00.

Silva was one of two holdovers from last year’s staff since both Netz and Sidney Somerndike missed the entire season with injuries. She was the strongest indication of improvement in the circle.

In 2023, Silva was Arizona’s second-leading pitcher in innings thrown with just 54. Her ERA was fourth of the five pitchers used at 4.80. Despite her innings increasing 65 percent to 155 IP in 2024, her ERA took a steep 1.55-point drop. That’s a 68 percent drop.

Silva’s WHIP also went down, although to a lesser degree. Her 1.41 WHIP in 2023 became 1.30 in 2024. Her batting average against also dropped, although just from .259 in 2023 to .253 in 2024.

In fact, just about all of Silva’s numbers improved. Hits per seven innings went from 7.26 to 6.55. Home runs per seven innings dropped from 1.69 to 1.22. Strikeouts per seven innings went from 4.28 to 4.97. Walks per seven innings nominally improved from 2.59 to 2.53. While Arizona certainly needs more improvement from whoever has the No. 1 spot on the staff, Silva took positive steps in every aspect of her game during the first season under the new staff.

Whether this was an improvement that could be drawn across the staff isn’t clear, though. Miranda Stoddard pitched under different conditions in a different league in her final year at Kentucky. She had also spent a year out of the game, so a better feel for improvement or regression won’t come until next season. By pure numbers, though, she regressed from her final season at Kentucky.

As for Ali Blanchard, she pitched just 25 innings this season, so she’s also difficult to get a read on. However, her numbers also took a turn for the worse. Her 5.17 ERA in 2023 became 5.80 in 2024. Her 30 walks in 46 innings a year ago became 22 walks in 25 innings this year. Her 30 strikeouts back in 2023 dropped to just 11 in 2024 in roughly half as many innings.

Next year will give a clearer picture of whether the new philosophies and pitching coach are having the desired effect. There are certainly positives in overall staff numbers and in the personal numbers of Silva. Does Silva continue improving? Does Stoddard take a step forward after a full year back? Does Brooke Mannon show a jump from freshman to sophomore year? The answers to those questions will determine how well the change is working.

Arizona should also have a more complete staff next year. The expected returns of Netz and Somerndike should help a great deal. The introduction of freshman Ryan Maddox will give another look for opponents. The Wildcats also add incoming freshman Sarah Wright to the group.

Then, there’s the portal. While Lowe has done very little in the portal—mostly bringing in role players to complement her high school recruits—there are some big names already available. They include former Washington pitchers Sidne Peters and Ruby Meylan, former Oregon State pitcher Sarah Haendiges, and former California hurler Randi Roelling—and those are just the former Pac-12 pitchers.

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